Thursday, September 10, 2009

Adios Veulta, Adios...

Tuesday 9 AM.

I wake up on a mattress in the middle of a dance studio in an old school. A smile crawls onto my face as I contemplate the day ahead. The start of the Vuelta is in Venlo today. I’m in Venlo. It will be my fourth day of the Vuelta and by this point I’m considering flying to Spain to see the rest. If this isn’t love I don’t know what is.

I hop out of bed and put some clothes on. I head over to the store and buy some more flavored yogurts. I come back and put my kit on before riding downtown.

Tammy’s place is only a few blocks from the Start. I roll around a bit until I see the team buses arriving. One by one they begin to pull into town. It’s so theatrical, I wonder if they rehearse it.

I head over and check out the Liquigas van where I catch a few mechanics in the act. They were making some adjustments to Basso’s bike.

Pretty soon the rest of the big teams roll up. Sensory overload. I don’t know which way to turn. Horner! Ballan! Moncoutie! Where do I go first???

I take a deep breath and head over to the Lampre van. Oh la la.

I think this is one of the sweetest bikes in the peloton.

Ag2r also has some nice new BHs.

I see this rolling around so I stop to talk to the owner.

He says it weighs 4.3 kg (9.48 lb). He lets me pick it up. So light. We chat a bit about the components on it. The cranks are carbon and so are the chainrings. I asked how they were holding up and he said fine but it didn’t look like the bike had too many miles on it. He said they made some modifications to the hubs. Ti spokes on the front wheel but not on the back. The spring on the back brake was a Ti spoke they had bent into the shape of a spring. The shifters are mounted on the head tube. It has a carbon saddle and a custom rear derailleur. Plus, there were only about six gears on the cassette.

At this point we’re standing in the way of a Caisse d’Epargne vehicle that’s honking at us. I move out of the way but not soon enough. He almost runs me over as my back wheel gets stuck under his front wheel.

“Hey!” I yell.

He doesn’t damage my wheel up but it really startles me. One of the Caisse d’Epargne soigneurs comes over to make sure everything is okay.

“No problema” I assure him.

I carry on but then realize I just blew my chance at a tour of the Caisse van. “He ran me over! I won’t settle for anything less than pics with Valverde AND Kiryienka!”

Oh look, Alan Davis.

The new Specialized looks pretty sweet.

"No really, you don’t want a tour of the van. We just have, you know, bike racing stuff...Ricco! Hide the sauce, quick! I saw that Piepoli!”

Marco Velo coming through…

I rolled around a bit more before seeing...Oh my God it’s Ballan! And Cunego!

I take off behind them down the corridor to Sign-in. I stop and pull over as others pass me. I’m hoping Horner will pass me. He’s the one guy I really wanted to see.

A few minutes go by and they keep rolling past me. Then, off in the distance I see a small guy in an Astana kit. It’s Horner! As he gets closer I yell “Horner!”

“What’s up?!” he says.

He signs some autographs for these PRO hoes then we shake hands.

“Hey dude, I’m from Berkeley!”
“Oh cool.”
“Yeah, I’m staying in Gent and racing my bike.”
“The weather’s not too bad today.”
“Yeah, but there’s reports of rain in Liege.”

We said goodbye and he rode off to sign-in. He was right about the rain. Later that day there was a giant crash in Liege due to rain. He broke his wrist in the crash and had to abandon the race. C’est la vie.

A few minutes later Tommeke Tommeke rolled up.

Then Stuey.

Then Frank.

Then Cadel “So what if I like 2nd place better?” Evans.

The King of Ventoux.

The rest of the pics are here

They started to thin out so I knew the start was near. I booked it around the square to catch them up the road.

After that I took some side streets then got out to the main road where the commissaires were driving by. I followed alongside until I was passed by two riders in matching kits. I jumped on their wheels.

They said they were going to km 0 so I stayed with them. That’s where the race officially starts and usually the road opens up. Before that they are led out by cars and motorcycles like in the pic.

We dodged traffic and ran lights. As we got closer the roads became packed with people. Then, I heard the lead cars pass...

The attacks started going off the front immediately. You could hear riders yelling as they tried to squeeze in on the narrow road. It was an exhilarating last view of the Vuelta. And then they were gone...

Ahh, what a trip. I had a moment then continued on with the guys. I asked them where they were headed. They said they were doing base today and planned on riding six hours. I said I was game. They told me to stay on their wheels. To their credit, I did look like a bit of a chump with my pack and everything.

We rode for a while and then I got to chatting with them. One was 20 and the other was 23. They said next year their team would be continental. They both lived at home and had taken time off from school to focus on cycling. They claimed their team's sponsor had just provided a lot of funding and they would be Continental next year.

The rain that was promised came so they decided to head back. They didn’t want to ride that long in the rain. I agreed.

I got back to the house a bit later and had dinner.

The next day I woke up early and headed back to Utrecht to visit the Dutchess.

Along the way I stopped to get some new Speedplay cleats put on. They're hard to find here since everyone rides Shimano, Look, or Time.

This shop had them but they were 50 euro! It was that or get new pedals. I bit the bullet and had them put the new cleats on.

The screws were so worn and stripped he had to cut the cleats off (my tired Sidis).

An hour later I was on a barge crossing some canal. I stopped off at a park near a university and took a nap in the grass.

Two hours later I got to Utrecht, or almost. I was a bit early though so I took a nap in a pasture. Then, I got bored so I went out and rode hard before heading over to see Louise.

Holland's been good to me.

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